The perfect wife, the long-suffering sacrificial mother and daughter, Meena Kumari was the epitome of self-effacing womanhood giving her all to her family, left with nothing. This is what happened to Meenaji in real life too. After her divorce from filmmaker Kamal Amrohi and even when she was married to him, Meenaji sought solace in alcohol and a string of relationships with men far younger than her. These included poet-filmmaker Gulzar (who denies the relationship outright) and Dharmendra (who smiles mysteriously and shyly).
Dharmendra and Meena Kumari
But proof of Meenaji’s extra-marital relationship lies in her ex-husband’s film Razia Sultan where he cast Dharmendra and then painted him black from head to toe on screen. It is said this was Amrohi’s revenge on the man who snatched his wife’s attention and affection. Meena Kumari supported the young struggling Dharmendra financially and emotionally. A formidable actress and a big box-office draw, she insisted that producers who wanted her for their films sign Dharmendra opposite her. Some of these films that she did only to boost Dharmendra’s career like Chandan Ka Palna, Main Bhi Ladki Hoon, Baharon Ki Manzil and Purnima were so awful they brought the actress’ reputation down by many pegs.
And we do mean pegs. By the time she was clinging to Dharmendra and probably supporting him financially she had begun to drink heavily. It showed on screen. In her later film she looked bloated and zonked.
A legendary artiste from Bollywood who was very close to Meenaji told me, “She was generous to a fault. She gave to anyone who asked. Finally she had nothing left. She was ill and had no money for her medical treatment. She died in the outhouse of a bungalow she gifted to her sister and Madhu and her husband the comic legend Mehmood. I went to visit her and was shocked to see her lying in a bare unkempt room with no one to attend to her. Someone came and gave her meals to her twice a day. Besides that she was all alone.”
A woman who ruled millions of hearts with her pristine beauty, eloquent eyes, trembling lisp and evocative voice died in penury and loneliness. Chalte chalte yuhi koi mil gaya ttha, was the song from Pakeezah that immortalized Meena Kumari after death.
She met so many…They all left.